What is the Shadow?
The concept of the Shadow is one which grew in popularity with the work of Carl Jung in the last century. Jung believed that to be whole, the Shadow side we all carry – suppressed thoughts, complexes and emotions – must be made explicit. Once this has occurred we need to integrate these aspects into our psyche. In Jung’s words –
“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”
What Jung means by this is that if we wish to become whole we must accept all aspects of ourselves. Jung believed that the more we attempt to deny parts of ourselves we don’t like, the more they continue to rule us on subtle levels.
In many cases, the Shadow goes unrecognized and is only seen by its projection onto others. For example, a person might notice that they encounter others who seem unreliable and have a very strong emotional reaction to this trait. They could feel especially averse and full of dislike, even hatred. Often this is because they too hold an aspect such as unreliability inside them, but they dislike this aspect so much they suppress it, instead seeing it in others.
In other cases, the Shadow is something people are aware of, but attempt to squash down due to shame or fear. For example, you may know deep down you struggle with jealousy and possessiveness but you are ashamed of these feelings. So, you try to deny it and tell yourself really you are very open and not at all insecure about your friendships or romances, yet still react angrily when you feel threatened by your jealous feelings. Or another person might say they never have problems with feeling angry and resentful, and yet behave in passive aggressive ways.
Why do we have a Shadow self?
Our Shadows often develop as we grow up when we unconsciously learn to modify our behavior to be more pleasing to our caregivers. We might internalize that it’s not OK to show anger or disappointment for example, or that we must suppress feelings of fear or guilt.
Because we deny these aspects they become hidden to ourselves to the point where we are often unable to acknowledge them.
Why is it important to work with our Shadow Selves?
Because our Shadow selves are suppressed and denied we often find that our energy and ways of interacting with others and the Universe are negatively affected by them. At times, we may encounter others who bring out our Shadow and this can be a painful experience if we don’t allow ourselves to accept and integrate these aspects.
Our Shadow selves can be powerful teachers and by coming to terms with our Shadow Selves and integrating them, we can become whole and learn how to harness all our energy. Making friends with our Shadow Selves can teach us important lessons about who we really are, which makes us more powerful energetically.
Attempting to deny our full selves and cut off the aspects of ourselves we fear and are ashamed of doesn’t make them go away, it makes them more powerful and more able to negatively impact us and our loved ones.
It’s important to remember that becoming more in tune with our Shadow selves doesn’t mean we get a free pass to behave negatively or in damaging ways. Quite the contrary – deep Shadow work leads to greater self-acceptance and a softening of attitudes and energetic relationships.
How does Shadow Work relate to Wicca?
Because working with the Shadow brings us closer to our natural being, it means we can find greater connection with the divine inside us. Light and darkness are two sides of the same coin, and both need to be embraced and accepted so that we can shine light for others. As Jung says –
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Because we want to be powerful forces of positive change in the world, it’s important to be able to recognize and accept our own darkness. Understanding the aspects of ourselves we feel ashamed of and which cause us harm doesn’t mean we think it’s OK to act harmfully. What it does mean is that we are prepared to do the work of self-discovery which makes us more effective practitioners in the long run.
How can we work with the Shadow?
There are many ways to work with our Shadow selves. The first stage is in recognition and acceptance, through careful examination of our psyches and the reactions we have toward other people, especially negative reactions. Self-compassion and kindness are key aspects of Shadow Working.
Journaling and automatic writing, as well as inner pathworking and using creative rituals to allow you to connect safely with your Shadow self are all useful. You can try free-writing after meditating, asking for support from energetic sources to uncover areas you wish to work with.
When you have identified an aspect of yourself you know is part of your Shadow you can learn from it by approaching in a state of open curiosity. Allowing yourself to really see what’s happening without judging or beating yourself up for your feelings is key. In many instances your shadow selves are aspects which are misguidedly attempting to keep you safe from harm. For example, if suppressed rage and anger is part of your Shadow this may have developed because in your earlier years you learned it wasn’t safe to express your anger.
By giving focused acceptance and compassion to this aspect you can learn to make friends with it. By acknowledging the work that this Shadow area has been doing all these years to keep you safe, and even thanking it, you can greatly reduce its power and begin to integrate it into yourself. Remember the goal isn’t to rid yourself of this aspect, but rather to integrate and transmute the energy into something which works better for you and your life now.
A self-love and healing ritual can help to give you the kindness and compassion you need to face these aspects of yourself, as it can be a painful process. Naming the aspect of the Shadow and asking to understand why it is there and how it’s trying to teach you and help you changes your relationship to it. From one of denial, even disgust and guilt at your feelings, you can begin to transform how you feel into acceptance, even appreciation. Backing up this energetic work with making changes in your life helps to complete the integration process.
As an example, I discovered when working with my Shadow that suppressed rage was a problem for me. I rarely lost my temper, and when I did it was always because of toxic situations or extreme provocation, allowing me to feel that I wasn’t truly angry – it was the other person who had caused the anger. I was denying that from a young age I had felt incredibly powerless to express myself when I felt angry. The result of this Shadow aspect was becoming a people pleaser, forcing myself to remain calm and accept situations I wasn’t happy with, and the odd bout of rage when faced with toxic situations. I also suffered from extreme feelings of frustration and powerlessness which expressed themselves in depression.
By recognizing and accepting I felt angry and it was OK to feel that way, I began to learn new ways of expressing myself. I read widely on putting down boundaries and how to speak assertively, rather than keep silent or shout when negativity got too much for me. As a result, the see-sawing between feeling guilt for losing my temper or extreme frustration at feeling I couldn’t voice my feelings lessened. I began to appreciate that this Shadow aspect had tried to keep me safe by letting me deny my feelings of anger consciously. As I made friends with this aspect I found that my feelings were transformed into a mindset that embraced compassion and kindness, but was more able to speak and assert boundaries and when I wasn’t OK with a given situation.
The result of working with and integrating that Shadow aspect was a greater feeling of wholeness and completion.
A Visualization Exercise for connecting with your Shadow
Get comfortable and begin to relax and breathe deeply. Visualize your entire body becoming softened and receptive.
Imagine that your body and mind are opening to your being in a way which is full and complete.
Ask your Shadow to be present and if it has anything to show you.
Words, images or thoughts might occur. Pay attention to what comes up in your mind’s eye. You might recall people who you dislike, or situations which have irritated you.
When something arises in your consciousness which causes you to feel emotionally uncomfortable or gives you pause for thought take some time to hold it lightly in your attention.
Examine the thought, image or characteristic that has appeared. Ask yourself if this is part of your psyche and if you recognize any aspects of it which seem to play any repeating roles in your life.
Are you recalling feelings of anger or powerlessness? Jealousy or resentment? Are there any places which feel bitter, or memories which you feel senses of guilt or shame about?
Remember to be self-compassionate and try to see these experiences lightly, with a sense of curiosity.
If you feel comfortable, ask this aspect of the shadow what it’s trying to teach you and show it love and acceptance.
You may find that feelings of grief or fear you didn’t know were associated with this aspect show themselves.
Remember, often our Shadow selves are parts of us which are attempting to keep us safe. Accept that this side to you has the possibility of being transmuted into positivity.
Thank the Shadow for everything it has shown you and if you feel comfortable ask for it to make changes to align with your goals and values more positively.
When you feel you have accepted some of this aspect into yourself thank the Shadow and honor yourself with kindness and compassion.
Gently let go of your visualization and ground yourself.
This process can be repeated with different elements of your Shadow self, going deeper each time. You may find that to begin with you only get glimpses of the Shadow, or find that feelings become intense. Remember the aim is to be gentle and take the process slowly. Overwhelming yourself with intensity can cause strong feelings of denial or unwillingness to proceed.
Further ways that the Shadow can be worked with can include asking for help and guidance from energies which we have developed relationships with. There is nothing wrong with asking for this assistance to be gentle and to show us in ways we can understand where our darkness lies.
Working with our Shadow selves can be an intense and sometimes distressing experience. Working from a framework of self-compassion is vital, so we don’t overwhelm ourselves with negative feelings and difficult past experiences. The work however, is incredibly rewarding and can lead to a new sense of wholeness and completion from which we can embrace our magical practices. Because we are dualistic in nature, experiencing both the light and the dark, it’s important to realize that the path to self-discovery and effective energetic working depends on our willingness to embrace ourselves fully.
Shadow and all.